Sunday, January 26, 2014

Penciled In

Tuesday was a snow day. Big OPM closed federal offices since we were supposed to get up to eight inches of snow. I went into the office before the snow started, partly to check what was going on, and partly to pick up my laptop so I could "work" from home. I didn't have anything immediately deliverable, but wanted to make sure I was available if taskers came in despite most things federal being closed.

And I wanted to stay "green-dotted" so the Assignment Officer knew I was not too busy to talk to him. I thought of if like putting a fishing line into the water while the ship transits between tasking. Fishing for a Detailer, if you will. I spent a lot of time catching up on the message board on Tuesday.

At 1222, an IM popped up at the bottom of my screen. "Charlotte, do you have time for a call?"

OMG, OMG, OMG, it *worked!!* "FISH ON!"

"Absolutely! I'm working from home, so call me on my cell..."

Two extremely long minutes later, the phone rang.

"I'm happy to tell you I have you penciled in for [your First Choice]."

Breathe, C, remember to breathe! I expressed my excitement, and we went through a few more details about what happens next in the assignment process (brief the command, issue orders, etc). I didn't really have any professional advice-type questions, since I must be doing the right things right to get my first choice. I'll definitely be reaching out to OPM towards the end of next tour to try to figure out what I should do for my next staff tour, but this one was kinda a no-brainer that I needed to get back afloat.

We chatted another couple of minutes about some other AY14-related issues (the unexpected WPB decomms in the FY14 budget), and then hung up so that he could get on with his other calls.

Thanks to all my friends, family and co-workers for being patient with me as the news sinks in and the giddiness abates. I didn't quite go skipping down the halls of Headquarters on Wednesday, but it was a close thing.

I'm being cagey about which boat it is for a reason. Orders aren't officially on the board, so things can still change. And I still need to figure out how to approach this blog thing as an XO. Which means talking about it with my new CO. Up until now, I have been relatively free to talk about what I want, how I want. The stuff I'm writing about here is distant enough from real people, that I don't risk getting crosswise with my boss about leadership or personnel issues. And when I was writing on KISKA, I was writing as the opinion was the one that mattered at the end of the day.

It's not going to be that way as XO. I will have my opportunity to express my opinion behind closed doors to the CO, but when the door opens, and decisions are presented to the crew, there is no room for daylight between the CO and XO. The XO is the Executive Officer...the title could just as easily be the Executor...the person who executes the commands. I don't get to have my own public opinion.

There are a couple of huge benefits I have gotten from writing this blog:
-- When I was on KISKA, it was a fantastic way to make the crews' daily lives accessible to their friends and family. I got *so much* positive feedback when I posted about normal, mostly boring details about patrols. The details are normal and boring to us who live them, but they are nuggets of insight into how we spend our days for folks back on the beach. Pictures of  something as routine as boat lowering detail can show loved ones that their sailors are *good* at what they do, professional and dedicated in ways that families don't always see.
-- I use this blog as a way to work through leadership and big picture issues in my head. I might not have any idea of where I'm going when I start a post, but by the end, I've usually distilled the issues and come up with some sense of what is important about whatever it is. And I'm forced to write about things because I have people reading the blog. It would be much easier to not expend so much brain power on thinking about any of this leadership crap, but because I have an audience, I write, and because I write, I'm a better leader.

I think that moving into the XO position, those two goals are likely mutually exclusive. I can see keeping an open forum for the first topic. I'm not so sure about keeping an open forum for the second. It will depend largely upon how comfortable the CO is with what I have to say. And also largely upon how well I think I can separate out the issues from the details. A ship's crew is a very small, self-contained world. There are not many secrets onboard a ship. And I will not jeopardize people's privacy for the sake of my blog. As FMR reminded me, I am accountable to the crew and the wardroom first and foremost, before being accountable to any readership I might have.

On the other hand, I think there is a definite need for continued consideration, analysis, reevaluation of leadership issues in today's Coast Guard. The issues are changing, the system is calcified, are the people caught in the middle? What can I do in my small part of the system to improve the dialogue, and come up with creative solutions that support the individuals, enhance the mission and improve the flexibility of the organization?

I'm facing a quandary here. I welcome any input about how to approach the details of this next challenge. I talked briefly with the incumbent XO. He started to read me into some of the challenges the ship and crew are facing, and sounded a little beat down by all of it. He's been there for almost two years, and I know how he feels right about now. But from my view, if there are no challenges, if there are no problems, I don't have a job as where's the fun in that?

Sunday, January 19, 2014


On Friday, the Senate passed the FY 2014 Omnibus bill, and sent it to the President for signature. It's been all over the news, especially since this bill finalizes funding for FY 2014 which was a particularly contentious year, spawning the first government shutdown in nearly two decades.

I was on leave Tuesday when the House released the text of the bill and the explanatory statement (link under "Bill Text," explanatory statement is in "Divisions D-F"), flying back from four days of amazing skiing in Park City, UT. First sign of Total.Budget.Geekery: scrambling to download the bill to my tablet while still in the airport so I could read through it on the return flight...all 1,582 pages of it, not including the explanatory statement. Thank goodness for the "Search" function.

It's hard for me to tell what the bald numbers in the text of the bill actually mean. For example, the bill says, "$7,011,807,000" between two semi-colons, and that's our funding level for our Operations Expenses appropriation. Yup, not particularly helpful without the context of what went into making that number up. That's what the explanatory statement is for...but I wasn't ready to go there yet.

I persevered reading through the bill, and found a little *gem* of goodness. "...That without regard to the limitation as to time and condition of section 503(d) of this Act, after June 30, an additional $10,000,000 may be reprogrammed to or from Military Pay and Allowances in accordance with subsections (a), (b), and (c), of section 503." It tickled at my brain, making me think, oh my -- is it really possible?? I had to wait until Wednesday when I returned to the office to get clarification on what that provision actually meant. The FY 2016 Coordinator confirmed my inkling -- it means that the Coast Guard can transfer up to $15 million to or from PPA-1 (Military Pay and Allowances) without having to go to Congress for permission. Huge, fantastic, massive, incredible *win* for the CG!!

Second sign of Total.Budget.Geekery: having this little provision make me so excited it obliterated the hassle of coming back to work after 8 days out of the office. Seriously, I was giddy for days!!

Now, I'm guessing you are wondering what the heck I'm so excited about. You sure you really wanna know? It's Total.Budget.Geekery lameness, i.e., deadly boring. Here goes, but if you get two sentences into it and wanna poke yourself in the eye with a pen because it would suck less, don't say I didn't warn ya...
The Coast Guard is funded through five main discretionary appropriations (Operating Expenses (OE); Acquisitions, Construction and Improvements (AC&I); Reserve Training (RT); Environmental Compliance and Restorations (EC&R); and Research, Development, Testing and Evaluation (RDT&E)). There are others, mandatory and discretionary, like Retired Pay (RP), the Gift Fund, the Yard Fund, but the first five are the bulk of our funding.

OE is the largest appropriation, at $7 billion. That's a lot of money to manage all in one account, so it gets further broken down into PPA's (Program, Project or Activity). There are six:
PPA-1: Military Pay and Benefits
PPA-2: Civilian Pay and Benefits
PPA-3: Training and Recruiting
PPA-4: Operating Funds and Unit Level Maintenance
PPA-5: Centrally Management Accounts
PPA-6: Intermediate and Depot Level Maintenance
I won't get into AFCs, the next level below PPAs.

Still with me? So, by appropriations law, previously we could transfer $5 million between PPAs to end the fiscal year as close to a zero balance in each account as possible. If we needed to transfer more, we have to ask our Appropriations Committees for permission to reprogram funds (it's a reprogramming request if it is within a single appropriation (like OE), a transfer request if it is between appropriations (between AC&I and RDT&E, for example). I remember sitting in my Federal Budgeting class at UMD, and having the professor kind of gloss over this detail, like no big deal. Well, it *is* a big deal. Because first we have to clear the request through DHS, and then OMB, and then it gets to Congress. Any request gets heavy scrutiny all along the way (rightfully so), so we try to limit our reprogramming requests.

But it's *really* hard, especially within PPA-1, which is the largest portion of OE, at $3.4 billion, and particularly volatile because it has to do with people and their personal decisions. As the Military Pay Manager says, his predictors are all solid, but because the account is so large, his pencil width is $10 million. Increasing our below threshold reprogramming (BTR) level for even just PPA-1 will help the CG to spend its money more effectively, as well as  reduce the management burden for our financial folks...*huge* win!!

There are some numbers within the budget that I know from the top of my head, from having worked with them so closely. So when I saw the following in the AC&I section, "$113,395,000, to remain available until September 30, 2014, shall be available for personnel compensation and benefits and related costs," I kinda knew my first day back at the office was going to be hectic. Total.Budget.Geekery Indicator #3 -- knowing why $113 million is a significant number. I spend a lot of my time on AC&I Personnel. It is a challenging account to manage because of the appropriations structure. It is a sub-approp within AC&I, but all the other sub-approps within AC&I are multi- or no-year funds. AC&I Personnel funds are one-year money, and so funds can't be reprogrammed in or out. In OE's PPA-1, it's hard enough to hit zero in a $3.4 billion account with a $15 million BTR AC&I Pers, we have to hit zero in a $113 million account with no ability to transfer money *at all* (I reread this sentence before posting, and it made *my* head hurt...sorry for the gory budget details). And it mixes military and civilian personnel compensation systems, which are very, very different. I saw this number and chuckled in frustration.

Once I got to the explanatory statement, there were definitely some details that took me by surprise, including decommissioning four WPB-110s and closing the AIRFACs in Charleston, SC and Newport, OR. I was very happy to see the $1 million for the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) Program, and $28 million restored to training. The "$7,459,000 realigned from Acquisition, Construction,
and Improvements to address a personnel imbalance between the two accounts" made me giggle, especially when combined with the "$6,100,000 is provided in the Personnel and Related Support PPA" in the C27 section. $18 million in AC&I for CG Housing was good to see as well.

Sign number four of Total.Budget.Geekery: viewing the budget as a career planning tool. The AC&I section of the explanatory statement includes the following regarding National Security Cutters (NSCs), "A total of $629,000,000 is provided for the NSC program. Of this amount, $540,000,000 is for the production of NSC-7, $12,000,000 is for the second segment of long lead time materials for NSC-7, and $77,000,000 is to acquire long lead time materials for the production of NSC-8." This means that there will likely be four O-6 commands available per year when (IF!!!) I ever make CAPT. Those are better odds than presented by having just six NSCs, which would be three commands available per year. So, I might maybe consider staying in to try for an O-6 command, instead of getting out after my O-5 command.

Sign number five of Total.Budget.Geekery: the level of excitement and relief I feel for having clarity and definite answers about FY 2014, and the ability we gain to be able to move forward on FY 2015. I feel like the log-jam is finally starting to break free.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Leaning In Alone

I have a feeling I'm going to have doubts about this post for a very long time. Is it really something I should be expressing so publicly? Or is it simply too personal? Too many opportunities to be misread or misinterpreted? Too girly?

Daring adventure or nothing -- so here goes.

I recently finished reading Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In. I was reading it kind of simultaneously with the aforementioned The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Both excellent books, full of amazing insights that I found profound and useful, easy reads and enjoyable -- my favorite kind of books. Maybe it was because I read them at the same time, but I was struck, and almost annoyed by the emphasis both authors placed on the importance of their husbands in their success. Sure. Great. Awesome for them that they have that type of built-in support. But what about when someone doesn't?

Couple this thought with the multiple, almost constant conversations I have with many of my single friends, and I've got the topic weighing on my mind.

Up-front disclaimer: I do not mean to suggest that working couples have it easy, or that stay-at-home parents solve every household logistics problem, or that marriage or partnership is uncomplicated and every one is wholly 100% supportive. I am selfishly focusing entirely on the challenges of being personally motivated, professionally successful and single. And I may make whiny, plaintive comments about the lack of assistance and empathy for the difficulties of being single.

First, there are the logistical difficulties. I work about 55 hours a week on average. Add to that my commute time on either end, any workout I wish to try to shoe-horn in, and I'm away from my house, unavailable for chores for about 80 hours a week. My Saturdays are consumed by laundry, grocery shopping, any yard work that can no longer be ignored, and thankfully no cleaning since I have a cleaner come in every two weeks. Sundays are prep days for the week -- food prep to make sure I have easy access to lunch and dinner, and making sure all the stuff I have to take in is ready to go. It is actually hugely disruptive to my schedule to have dinner plans out with friends or go for a motorcycle ride or enjoy some time hiking or whatever.

If *I* don't go grocery shopping, the fridge and cupboards become bare. If *I* don't do laundry, I run out of clean clothes. If *I* don't put gas in the car tank, the Honey Bee will leave me stranded. If *I* don't stock up on paper products, I am the only one to blame when there is no more TP in the house. If *I* don't leave work early to meet the repairman, no one will open the door to fix whatever has worn out in the house. There is no back up. There are no house elves scurrying around behind closed doors when I'm gone. The cats try, bless them, but they're really much better at leaving bits of food all over the floor, giving me some quality time contemplating the sustainability of using processed corn cobs as kitty litter, and staring picturesquely out the front windows at me when I'm on my way out the driveway in the morning.

Then, there are the prioritization issues. Fortunately, I haven't personally experienced the situation where I've been asked to cover holiday duty so that the married watchstanders can have time with their families (because that would make me crazy and probably spark an entirely unprofessional rant), but I have heard about them from fellow singles. Fortunately, my current co-workers are so entirely awesome that MC Hooligan immediately, with absolutely no hesitation, offered to cover Christmas week so I could spend the time with my sister and her husband.

For me, right now, I think the prioritization issue is that it is so very easy to get wrapped up in work to the exclusion of all else. Do I not have much of a social life because I work too much, or do I work too much because I don't have much of a social life? I'm really not sure which is the cause and which is the effect. I do know that my New Year's (not a) resolution is to try to keep in closer touch with my family. A year or two ago, Uncle Heathen started a weekly email named after an old BBC show "This Was the Week That Was" (aka T3). It was just a quick, weekly blurb to family with mundane news or happenings. We had a couple of good months of hearing from people, but then it just kind of fell away. I think folks felt like what they were saying was too much the same from week to week, and nobody was interested. Well, this year, tough luck for them if my life is boring! Because they're all gonna hear about it!! Both sides of the family, too!!!

Lastly, there are the emotional energy shortfalls. I have a friend who is single. She is beautiful inside and out, kind-hearted and sweet, smart, ridiculously hard working, out-going and energetic, and gorgeous. I have **NO IDEA** why she is single. She started seeing someone and things were great for a little bit. Then the guy just kinda turned off and disappeared. Her comment was "It's just hard to not feel inadequate all the time - I constantly get my ass kicked at work and now I can't seem to hold any male attention." My heart goes out to her, and unfortunately, the only solace I could offer was some lame platitude about "hanging in there." But I think that her plight is nearly impossible to avoid for the single person who is leaning in. Leaning in means taking challenges. If challenge was synonymous with success, everybody would challenge themselves. People don't because challenges inherently present the possibility of failure, and depending on the greatness of the challenge, the *probability* of failure.

To be faced with failure, even small ones, or maybe even just not sterling successes, in personal and professional facets of life at the same time, every day, all day is exhausting! It has made me question myself, every single decision that has brought me to where I am, every single future decision I will make, and undermines my ability to focus on anything but failure. "Of course I'm single, I'm too dumb to even figure out how to not get yelled at at work." "Of course I suck at this job, I can't even get a date." No matter that the specifics of the two things are completely unrelated, it is So.Very.Hard. to not comingle them.

So, I don't know how to lean in alone. But I also don't feel like I have any choice. I will continue to accept the challenges presented by my job. I will continue to work as much as I need to get the job done. I will continue to express my opinion, continue to build my credibility, continue to seek out new and greater responsibilities, continue to be an example to anyone who wants to look to me for mentorship (gawd help them!!), continue to be myself -- because I'm certain that's the only thing I know how to do with complete confidence.